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Biodegradable paper goods

Question:

Is it true that using biodegradable paper goods is just as bad as plastic or Styrofoam if it all goes to the landfill?  

– Jennifer Maeng, Manager, Tarallucci e Vino, New York, NY

Answer:

Yes and no.  To be really effective, the use of biodegradable supplies like plates, cups and flatware should be integrated with a composting program so that the products you use can break down quickly and have a second useful life as compost.  The composted materials can then be used to fertilize plants grown for food.

Using a more conventional waste management program like carting these biodegradable products to a landfill means you are, indeed, losing some of the benefit of these materials.  But it’s still a greener option.

David Waller, with YourGreen2Go in Houston, Texas, indicates that biodegradable tableware may break down in as few as forty-five days in a compost program or closer to 180 days in a landfill.  But, he argues, “either is much better than using conventional products which may take as many as 10 or 20 years [to break down] in a landfill.”

Another important consideration is the message your choice of disposable tableware sends to your guests.  Some concepts unapologetically use Styrofoam or other non-compostable supplies and their business doesn’t seem to suffer.  Other restaurants are very conscious about sending a green message with their choice of supplies—whether or not their waste management system is designed to live up to the guest’s expectations.

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